On-The-Job Training 101: Building a Workforce that Really Works

16 minutes
iSpring Suite
Fast course authoring toolkit
Learn more

Did you know that there is a “secret weapon” for turning staff potential into performance and bringing trainees up to speed quickly? The secret is not a new technology; it’s an established practice known as on-the-job training or OJT.

On-the-job training is called many different things: hands-on learning, learning by doing, or job mentoring. It’s the kind of training solution that’s so simple it’s often overlooked. This article will provide you with a comprehensive explanation of OJT, including:

What Is On-The-Job Training?

Simply put, on-the-job training is a way for employees to learn a job by observing and performing everyday job tasks. Most participants are new hires into a job role; however, this method can also be used as part of internal job rotation or a professional internship program.

During OJT, a newcomer to a job role is paired with an experienced team member or leader. The trainee typically accompanies their co-worker or mentor to observe the tasks accomplished during a typical workday. After a period of observation and explanation, the trainee is allowed to perform a specific job or task they have observed.

On-the-job training can be either structured or unstructured.

  • Unstructured OJT usually has no set training agenda. The new hire observes or works alongside an experienced co-worker. The co-worker, acting as a trainer, selects the job tasks and activities they want the trainee to learn. It works best for limited job positions in a company that requires trainees to perform well-defined tasks in a consistent manner. For example, if you hire a receptionist for your medical clinic, you need to consistently teach them how to fill in the contract form, count cash, and work with scheduling software.
  • Structured OJT is designed and delivered in a well-defined, methodical manner. It usually includes a clear training agenda with tasks and a timeline for completion. Each co-worker completes the same training agenda and activities for a given job role. For example, you can create a separate learning program for the whole call center staff or a sales team.

3 Indicators You Should Start Structured On-The-Job Training 

If your company didn’t just appear a couple of days ago, you’re likely to have at least minimum basic training for new employees. However, at some point, you may need to institute a well-planned and well-structured on-the-job training program. Three indicators that you should do it right now are:

Indicator #1: Grow

If your organization is growing consistently and you’re experiencing the continual infusion of staff, it’s time to think about launching new-hire training. A well-structured program will help you simplify and speed up the new employee onboarding process and help your new team members to acquire the knowledge and skills needed much faster.

Indicator #2: Change

When the company changes the way they do business, this is a major indication that staff training should be launched. Of course, that is if you don’t want to get caught up in new problems and be forced to delay changes. OJT can help reduce the stress associated with innovations through:

  • New or updated technologies in your workplace: Hands-on practice using new software or hardware gives workers the experience and confidence they need to use new tools correctly.
  • Business practices or business goals: Changing what you do or how you do it is a big deal. Training is a great way to help instill new habits.
  • Company policies or procedures: After a company refines its policies, it’s important to show employees how the changes benefit both individuals and the company. It is also possible to do it through on-the-job training. 
  • Reorganization of job roles or responsibilities: OJT can help to reduce or eliminate much of the confusion related to job changes when they’re driven by enterprise or team-level reorganizations.

Indicator #3: Metrics

When metrics vary from the norm, it’s time to act. On-the-job training can help get you back on track when:

  • Productivity is on the decline: When your teams don’t produce as expected, hands-on training can bring them back to the levels needed.
  • Customer satisfaction or quality levels drop: Negative feedback is really a gift (even if it’s hard to take sometimes). When once-happy customers raise a red flag, it’s time to investigate and take appropriate action.

Remember that training is never a one-and-done process. Assess and review your training programs and processes on a regular basis to remain aligned with organizational needs.  

5 Benefits of On-The-Job Training

Let’s look at how a well-designed OJT program benefits organizations.

  • Provide a custom learning experience. New employees learn how to perform tasks in exactly the right way for your organization. This can help your new employees become productive more quickly.
  • Cost-efficiency. Training is usually conducted by experienced colleagues in the workplace. This eliminates the need to hire expensive outside trainers or to travel offsite.
  • Increase worker engagement and job satisfaction. A recent study by LinkedIn found that 94% of respondents would stay with an organization longer if it invested in their careers. Another study found employees who were offered OJT to be 30% happier with their careers than those who received no training.
  • Develop an internal talent pipeline. This kind of training gives your experienced workers the chance to mentor new colleagues within a structured framework. This can help you prepare high-performing team members for future advancement.
  • Reduce turnover. Attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent can be difficult in many job markets today. Training can show both new and current employees that you are serious about creating long-term job opportunities. 

7 On-The-Job Training Methods

There are many ways to design and deliver effective OJT. Here are some of the most common training methods:

1. Coaching/mentorship

Trainees work directly under the supervision of a team leader, supervisor, or manager. The Coach or Mentor provides a constructive feedback loop to the trainee. This training method is most successful when the leader takes the time to clearly explain each concept and is open to answering questions about the overall process.

For example, at IBM, coaches help teams with their issues and assist in organizing or reorganizing groups of people to be even more successful. They focus on three areas: collaboration, leadership, and technical practices. Besides, IBM delivers a program called “The Agile Doctor Is In” that allows employees to schedule the time with one of the IBM coaches to focus on a specific problem that needs solving. 

2. Internships

This method can be offered to either current or new hire employees. Internships for current employees often focus on theoretical and practical aspects of a job role and can be mainly for observation purposes. Internships for new hires also stress theory and practice, while also requiring trainees to put in some “hands-on” time.

3. The buddy system

A buddy system pairs the trainee with a team member at their same level, as opposed to a leader. This method gives the trainee an opportunity to observe how job tasks are done in a real-world setting. It works best when the experienced worker is a skilled communicator who can demonstrate how to use approved best practices.

For instance, Bacardi, a famous rum-maker, uses a buddy system as a part of its new hire onboarding program. In a special onboarding app, every new hire, no matter their location or role, can find contact details for a Bacardi ‘buddy’ they can go to for advice. “Buddies” who are actually senior employees provide all the necessary guidance to their new colleagues. 

4.  Job shadowing or observation

Shadowing is when a new hire accompanies an experienced co-worker over a period of time to see how the co-worker structures their day and performs regular job duties. The trainee typically does not participate in work duties; instead, their goal is to listen and learn. Job shadowing is often a first activity for individuals moving into a leadership role or a sales position.

5. Job rotation/stretch assignments

Rotation or stretch assignments place individuals from one area of an organization into a different job role for a set period of time. Job rotation participants may be assigned a buddy or mentor to guide them. Job rotations and stretch assignments are a good way to give high-performing employees exposure to new areas of the business.

6. eLearning

Today’s learning technologies make it possible for organizations to train their employees online. Concise, focused eLearning training modules can be integrated into an OJT program and accessed as part of a daily training routine. A blended learning strategy could require employees to spend 10-15 minutes a day on eLearning activities and the rest of their day on job tasks. For example, Villa St. Vincent, a health care provider, created a series of eLearning courses that integrate easily into that organization’s new hire training program. 

Here’s an example of Villa St. Vincent’s e-course:

Dialog simulations can also be an effective way for employees to learn a variety of communication skills, including how to address customers in a professional manner, how to conduct a sales call, and how to speak persuasively. Conversation simulations are often accessed at the point of need, which means that your people get the knowledge they need at the time they need it most. 

See an example of a dialog simulation developed for Terre des Hommes

7. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

VR and AR are the next generations of high-quality learning technologies. With a VR headset, a trainee can experience a high-quality three-dimensional learning simulation at any time and in any location. For example, UPS uses VR headsets as part of their training to help drivers spot potential hazards while “driving” down a virtual road.

Walmart plans to use VR to train 1 million employees on topics such as disaster preparedness and managing holiday shopping crowds. Tyson Foods says that their VR training on general safety and hazard awareness has resulted in a 20% drop in injuries and illness among their workforce.

AR is becoming widely used in the retail industry to teach topics such as merchandising, display, and inventory management, and in many other spheres. For example, aircraft manufacturer Boeing uses AR to give their technicians access to hands-free, interactive 3D diagrams to guide the installation of electrical wiring.

How to Launch On-The-Job Training

Once you’ve made the decision to create an OJT program, it’s time to design the solution that works best for you. A systematic, six-step approach, such as the one described here, is a great template for any type of training.

Step 1: Assess needs

When designing any type of learning program, always start with the end in mind. Ask:

  • What are our goals for the program overall?
  • Which job roles would benefit most from OJT?
  • What are the qualifications, knowledge, hard and soft skills for these job roles?
  • What skills or knowledge do new hires usually already have?
  •  What skills or knowledge do we usually have to teach our new hires?
  • What skills or knowledge typically require ongoing training or coaching?

Once you’ve identified your most pressing training needs, you can start to define the specific knowledge or skills your OJT should include. Here are a few examples:

Appliance repair technicianCustomer service agentPrintshop operator
  • Go on service calls
  • Observe customer interactions
  • Perform repairs under the guidance of an experienced tech
  • Review and explain workplace safety guidelines
  • Practice using database software
  • Listen in as an experienced agent takes customer calls
  • Follow a script to make a sample customer call
  • Help set up the machine for a large print run
  • Select the correct paper stock, size, and type based on the job
  • Monitor and replace consumables during a run

Step 2: Select the appropriate method of training

Your next step is to match the training tasks with the appropriate training method. In the examples above, you can see that some of the tasks require active participation, while others focus on building knowledge. To support the different types of tasks, you’ll need to design a blended learning curriculum.

Here is what an OJT plan for an appliance repair technician could look like:

Task descriptionType of taskTraining method
Go on service callsObservation/participationBuddy system/coaching
Observe customer interactionsObservationJob shadowing
Perform repairs under guidanceActive participationBuddy system
Review safety guidelinesKnowledge-basedeLearning

Once you have your blended learning plan mapped out, it’s time to select the tools and resources to develop your program.

Step 3: Select tools & resources

A blended OJT will require an array of resources, such as people, software, documents, tools, etc. Take the time to identify the resources you need before you move forward! If you overlook this part of the process, you won’t have the detail to create the right learning materials.

The chart below suggests the types of tools and resources needed for the appliance repair technician training tasks.

Training methodTraining tools & resources needed
  • Leaders/experienced co-workers
  • Schedule/timeline
  • Demonstrations
  • Work tools
  • Documentation such as SOPs, repair manuals, etc.
  • LMS (to launch, schedule and record results)
Buddy system
  • Experienced co-workers
  • Guidelines for buddy system tasks
  • Overview/demo
  • Documentation on work tasks, SOPs, etc.
  • LMS
  • Online modules, activities, and assessments
  • LMS
  • Links or downloadable resource documents
  • Authoring tool (if you’re going to create courses in-house)

Did you notice one training tool common to each training method? The most critical support tool for training success is a learning management system or LMS. It is your “one-stop shop” for managing and tracking learning results.

A robust LMS allows you to quickly upload just about any type of learning material, including presentations, documents, videos, and SCORM courses. Once the content is uploaded, you can invite employees to the LMS, and assign courses. For example, iSpring Learn also has a calendar to facilitate scheduling offline events and Zoom integration for hosting online meetings.

If you’re going to create eLearning materials in-house (We’ll consider this in greater detail further.), you’ll need a course authoring tool. For instance, you can use iSpring Suite to build robust eLearning modules, video lectures, screen recordings, dialog simulations, and interactive assessments. All of the content you create with iSpring Suite will deploy perfectly on the iSpring Learn LMS.

Step 4: Design materials

You likely already have manuals, SOPs, and other documentation, or at least know how to assemble them. So we’ll focus on designing interactive eLearning courses that are several levels higher. They are a powerful learning tool that can help you significantly increase your learners’ engagement and knowledge retention.

When it comes to course development, you have three basic choices:

  1. You can outsource content creation to a third-party vendor. The biggest advantage of outsourcing is that it can help you “jump-start” your project work quickly. Vendors typically have a pool of instructional design, graphic, and multimedia developers who can create any type of learning content. If you go the outsourcing route, be sure to invest time and money in it! Outsourcing is the most expensive way to develop content, and you can expect your vendor’s rates to change, based on the type of design skills you need.
  2. You can buy existing courseware off-the-shelf. Buying existing content is the fastest way to set up a curriculum, and is significantly less expensive than outsourcing. Reputable courseware may contain accurate and up-to-date information; however, you should expect it to offer a fairly generic user experience. Off-the-shelf content will not include any custom touches or personal branding unless you pay extra for these services. Plus, you can hardly find ready-made courses for a specialized job area.
  3. You can create the content in-house. Building your learning content in-house is often the most cost-effective (read here about the cost estimates) and practical solution. Creating your curriculum allows you to leverage the expertise of your most experienced leaders and employees so you can customize the best learning solutions. It also gives you total ownership of the materials, so edits and updates will not require any further hard-dollar expenditures. 

When developing content in-house, remember that iSpring Suite can also turn documents such as SOPs and user manuals in PDF format or PowerPoint presentations into a virtual library of resources for your learners. Simply open a document, click Publish, and your content will be available as a SCORM course.

Visit the demo page for more ideas on how you can use iSpring Suite to develop your learning materials. 

Step 5: Identify and prepare your people

Be sure to line up your team of coaches, mentors, and experienced employees while your program is in the planning stages. Make your trainers aware that OJT will be a thoughtful and systematic process, not a “fly by the seat of your pants” effort.

Your support team should have the necessary expertise to quality check your training materials for accuracy. When the content is complete, hold a series of train-the-trainer sessions (also known as  “T3 sessions”) to make sure everyone understands how each task or activity should be conducted. Once your team is ready, it’s time to upload the content, conduct a pilot, and launch your training program.

Step 6: Assess results and improve

After an initial launch period, you’ll want to review the results of your training program. Learning professionals typically monitor learning and performance-based outcomes for trainees at 30, 60, and 90-day intervals. Longer-term checks at 6 months and 1 year after training completion can give a true indication of how well your trainees retain and use their training on a day-to-day basis.

If you use an LMS, you can monitor learning progress at both the individual and team level with the help of LMS reports

Final Thoughts

The benefits of OJT go beyond new hire training. A well-designed program signals your organization’s commitment to learning, which can help you attract and retain the best new employees. Training also gives high-performing employees the chance to mentor and guide their newest co-workers. Together with your existing new hire curriculum, OJT can ensure that your trainees feel valued and motivated to succeed throughout their career with your organization.

If you have any questions or suggestions for what makes great on-the-job training, we’d love to hear your comments below.

iSpring Suite

Fast course authoring toolkit

Create online courses and assessments in record time.

Fast course authoring toolkit